After trekking all over creation in search of the much-touted Caputo 00 flour, I finally gave up and mail-ordered 10 small, 1-kilogram bags. (Yes, that’s 22 pounds of flour. I have to clean out my freezer to store the flour.) Caputo, milled in Naples, is famed as a pizza and pasta maker’s flour, formulated for maximum extensibility and milled to a talcum-powder fineness. Lucky for me, the UPS man delivered the Caputo right alongside my new Kitchen Aid pasta roller attachments.
Now, with the right tools and ingredients at hand, it was time to try out homemade pasta. In preparation, I read through the fresh pasta sections of half a dozen cookbooks, inlcuding Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cuisine, Pasta Improvisata, The French Laundry cookbook, the Silver Spoon pasta book, and one of Mario Batali’s many books.
All of the books’ recipes started with a hillock of flour atop a cutting board or counter, then suggested I make a well in the middle and add egg. Slowly, flour and egg stirred together begin to make a dough, which is kneaded until smooth.
In practice, the egg refused to combine with the flour. My fork (or fingers) simply chased the egg around in circles. Pasty gobs of flour stuck to the board, forming sodden lumps that refused to break up. Finally, after interminable minutes of slippery fiddling, I had a rock-hard, uneven lump of dough, way too hard to knead by my hands.
Screw the recipes. Sometimes technology is an improvement over needless, frustrating hand labor, regardless of the purist tendencies of Hazan and Keller. I plopped the dough into my stand mixer, connected the dough hook, and allowed the mixer to knead my eggy mess into a smooth, cohesive mass: all in less than 5 minutes. After a short rest, the dough went through the pasta rollers easily. No–that’s not true. On the first try, it stuck to the rollers, so I turned to the internet for support and learned to flour the pasta sheets as I rolled. THEN it went through the rollers like a charm.
So what to do with this lovely fresh pasta? The French Laundry cookbook contained a sweet potato agnolotti recipe, a riff on the traditional pumpkin-filled pastas common in Italy. I just happened to have a couple of baked sweet potatoes in the fridge. Preparing the filling (sweet potato, bacon, spices) was easy–but I hit yet another speed bump. Pasta sheets for filled shapes need to be fresh–if allowed to dry out even a bit, the sheets won’t seal up properly. Only the very last sheet rolled remained tender enough to seal. My filled pasta output yielded less than a dozen little stuffed pillows.
As it turns out, slightly dried out pasta sheets are perfect for cutting into long shapes. I turned the remaining sheets into fettucini. The Kitchen Aid cutter was efficient and quick. I can imagine how difficult it must be to use a hand-cranked machine and cutter; you’d need three hands to crank, feed, and catch the noodles emerging from the machine. Sprinkled with flour, some of the noodles went into a zip-top bag, refrigerated for later.
But I did slip a batch of fettucini into boiling water, and less than 5 minutes later, I sat down to enjoy my hand- (and partly machine-) made noodles with nothing more than butter, parmesan, and cracked pepper.
Once I dig all of the flour out from under my nails, I will try out the Caputo 00 flour in a pizza crust or two….